A New Reality for Las Vegas Muslims

December 11, 2008

Author: Peter H. King

Source: The Los Angeles Times


Masjid As-Sabur, sometimes called "the black mosque" by Las Vegas Muslims, sits on the backside of downtown, amid a mishmash of housing projects, run-down apartments and abandoned lots. Across the freeway looms the Lady Luck casino, its neon sign seeming to mock the neighborhood below.

There is nothing much lucky about this corner of the Crystal City, and a main thrust of the mosque's work involves trying to heal it, with food giveaways, free health clinics, demonstrations against crack houses and the like.

Nonetheless, a visit inside the gated mosque last Friday before prayers found the imam, one month after the fact, still glowing about the election of the nation's first black president.

"The election was everything everybody said it was," said Fateen Seifullah, the 40-year-old imam, or spiritual leader, an African American who spent his early years in the South. "It represents the apology African Americans have been waiting so long for."

In the month since, Seifullah went on, the election "has healed wounds that we didn't even know existed. We didn't know, some of us, that we were carrying that much baggage."

Seifullah offered no whiff of cynicism, struck not a single cautionary note. His unbridled enthusiasm was remarkable, as unexpected as it was informative. I had first met him five years ago in a different context, a more difficult moment.

I was beginning a yearlong project in Las Vegas, profiling the Muslim community of a single city in post-Sept. 11 America. One of my first stops had been at Masjid As-Sabur, watching a long line of down-and-outers wait outside the gates for the start of a Sunday lunch giveaway.

Seifullah had been polite, but also reserved. It would take some time before he would sit down for an interview. In that time -- for American Muslims a difficult passage of double takes from passersby, of slurs and telephone threats and FBI visits -- a measured wariness seemed a natural response to a stranger with a tape recorder asking questions.

Still, Seifullah had seemed to keep his guard up more than many of the Muslims I came to know. Now, though, it was altogether down.